U.S. the world leader in both health and economic disaster
Donald Trump has the distinction of being president of the country that leads the world in coronavirus deaths and the distinction of being president of the developed nation with the highest unemployment rate in the world. His policies are to blame for both of those crises. At a press conference yesterday Trump ignored the jobless crisis and on the coronavirus crisis which is worsening every day he said things are "under control." He spent time also launching contradictory potshots at Kamala Harris, the vice presidential pick of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. | Andrew Harnik/AP

With more than 5 million cases, the U.S. is the world leader in the numbers of people infected with the deadly coronavirus. To top that off, jobless figures released today show that at least 30 million are unemployed, with the actual number estimated to be well over 50 million. The percentage of people who are jobless in the U.S., then, is also higher than it is in any other developed nation.

President Trump ignored the jobless crisis altogether at a rambling, disjointed press conference yesterday and on the coronavirus disaster repeated his claim that the country is “in good shape” in most places and that the virus will eventually disappear. Instead of addressing the historic crises engulfing the nation, he chose to take potshots at Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice presidential running mate, labeling her as a radical leftist on the one hand and as a “moderate with whom liberals will be disappointed” on the other hand.

Harris herself had no such contradictory characterizations of Trump when she blasted the president during her joint appearance before the country with presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“The U.S. leads the world with more than 5 million coronavirus cases because of Trump’s failure to take it seriously from the start,” Harris said. “His refusal to get testing up and running, his flip-flopping on social distancing and wearing masks, his delusional belief that he knows better than the experts. All of that is the reason that an American dies of COVID-19 every 80 seconds.”

On what she thinks about Trump’s handling of the economy, Harris was also clear, claiming Trump “inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama.”

“Because of Trump’s failures of leadership, our economy has taken one of the biggest hits out of all the major industrialized nations, with an unemployment rate that has tripled as of today,” the senator from California said.

Harris may have been on target more than she knew when she blasted the Trump administration on its approach to testing yesterday. Studies from the COVID Tracking Project and John Hopkins University just published confirm her charges of inadequate testing.

A drastic drop in testing over the last few weeks across the country, particularly in the hot zones, is the real explanation for the slight decline recently in new coronavirus cases.

Epidemiologists are saying that testing shortages in hot zone states mean that, rather than decreasing, cases are simply going undiagnosed. Reducing the amount of testing, of course, has been Trump’s long-time goal—no tests will mean no cases.

The decline in testing is dramatic in the hardest-hit states with the worst outbreaks. According to data from the Covid Tracking Project, in Texas new cases have fallen by 10%, to an average of 7,381 a day from 8,203 two weeks ago. Testing, however, is down by 53% over the same period.

Even more alarming, the percentage of positive tests has doubled over the last two weeks to about 24%, according to Johns Hopkins University. That compares with a so-called positivity rate of less than 1% in New York state, which was once considered the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.

“I really have come to believe we have entered a real, new, emerging crisis with testing,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in an interview with CNBC. The Texas data, he said, is “very concerning.”

Official figures on the number of jobless likewise don’t tell the whole story about the economic crisis engulfing the nation. The number of new weekly claims for state-run jobless benefits declined in the week ending August 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, to just under one million, but there are still—officially—about 30 million unemployed people collecting benefits, with the real number of unemployed likely above 50 million.

The Department of Labor said there were 831,856 actual new claims for the state-paid benefits in the week ending Aug. 8. After seasonal adjustments, such as for students who ordinarily would be laid off from summer jobs before school began again, that number rose to 963,000.

Remarks by Sen. Kamala Harris yesterday on the inadequacy of coronavirus testing were confirmed by studies published today. | AP

Before that figure, there were still 15,207,671 jobless workers receiving state aid, plus 12 million beneficiaries, all of the $600 federal-only checks, the week before. Another million or so got benefits from other programs, DOL said.

In addition, some six to seven million people got state jobless benefits before the pandemic hit. Taking all that into consideration, the real jobless total is closer to 50 million.

Joblessness is still due to widespread ordered business closures, bans on large crowds, and social distancing, all measures states ordered to try to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. And millions of other people had to completely drop out of the labor market, either because they caught the virus or had to care for loved ones who did.

The most reliable data, from Johns Hopkins University, show that as of 8:30 a.m. on August 13, 5.198 million people nationwide had tested positive since the pandemic officially was declared exactly five months before, and 166,038 had died.

As a result, millions of workers have already fallen off a financial cliff and more are sure to follow. The federal-only unemployment system stopped taking applicants after July 31, and the Senate’s GOP majority doesn’t want to revive it.

Those bereft workers include adjunct professors whose colleges have closed down or gone to virtual learning, home health care workers and farmworkers who are not covered by state jobless benefits, port truck drivers, and actors and musicians whose venues closed down.

Many also now face the prospect of living on the streets, in tents, or in their vehicles as federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums expired, too, on July 31.

“Keep the pressure on!” the National Employment Law Project tweeted. “The Senate must reinstate the federal $600 pandemic unemployment compensation as well as other funds—and expand inclusion to all workers and communities, including immigrants.”

“Call your senators now at 1-888-668-8919 and tell them to #SaveThe600!”

Instead of providing aid to the jobless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is holding it hostage to his scheme to provide businesses complete immunity from lawsuits from workers or consumers who get sick because firms won’t provide protection for people against the coronavirus. Some 108,000 people have already signed an ActionNetwork petition denouncing McConnell’s business bonanza, and labor is strongly campaigning against it.

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CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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